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If you don't believe that technology can empower people and change lives for the better then you haven't heard Myrna's story. I was in Santiago de Chile earlier this month attending the 3rd Global Forum on Telecentres. The final day of the event started with an inspiring launch of the Telecentre Women Digital Literacy Campaign. As I emphasized on stage at the event, this is much more than a campaign. Over the next year, telecentre.org and partners around the world seek to introduce over 1,000,000 women to the power of information and communication technology through telecenters (see below for a definition). By recognizing women leaders ("ambassadors") and providing mentors for the next generation of leaders, this effort will also build capacity to reach and train even more women in the years to come. At events throughout the year, policy makers, business people, academics, community leaders, will be engaged in dialogue about increasing access to technology for women and the positive impact this can have on families, communities and nations. You can register your participation in the campaign here.
But numbers, events and recognition are meaningless if individuals are not being touched through these programs by building skills and gaining access to information that can transform their lives and communities. The story of one changemaker in particular struck me in Santiago. I won't do her moving speech justice, but let me try to summarize Myrna Padilla's story if you don't have time to watch the video.
Myrna was raised in a poor fishing village on the island of Bohol in the Philippines, often going hungry and taking jobs as early as the age of 9 to pound rice or to dive in the ocean to gather seaweed to sell at the local market - anything to help feed the family. As a young mother of two she followed the path of many Filipino women and made the difficult decision to leave her two children behind to spend the next 20 years working overseas as a domestic servant. While working in the services of a family in Hong Kong, a boy of 8 in the house introduced Myrna to the computer. Myrna described her fear of learning to operate a computer as similar to diving into the ocean for the first time.
As she learned how to use the computer, she put these skills to work at the Mindanao Hong Kong Worker's Federation, where she served as Chairperson for eight years. Upon returning to the Philippines, Myrna founded Mynd Consulting, with the goal of offering women an opportunity to stay close to their families while still providing for an income. Today Mynd Consulting offers a wide range of services to clients including web development, graphic design and programming services with a specialty in the development of social media applications.
Myrna is an amazing individual and an entrepreneur. I am not saying that technology is a magic elixir, but I am saying that technology can open doors, whether through increased confidence, a specific set of skills or the by giving a voice to those who may not be heard. It does change a life when a person can use a computer to connect and create. Most of us take that for granted in our daily life, and Myrna is just one reminder. The Telecenter Women campaign is certain to create at least 999,999 more stories.
Just so you know: A telecentre is a public place where people can develop digital skills by being given access to computers, the Internet, and other technologies that help them gather information and communicate with others. A telecentre can go by other names-e.g. infocenters, community technology centers, village knowledge centers, etc.-but is always defined by its objective of contributing to social development and community building.
Myrna Padilla (center), on stage with Secretary Ivan Uy, Philippine Information and Communication Technology Commission, and Tess Camba, Director of Operations, Telecentre.org Foundation